Club Spotlight: How the ABC Flying Club Responded When the FAA Came Calling

It seemed like any other Thursday in April when the phone rang. That was until the voice on the other end said it was the FAA and they had some questions. That’s not exactly what you want to hear if you’re the president of a flying club.

In this case, the Allegheny FSDO called the past president of the ABC Flying Club because that was the contact they had. He immediately contacted the current president. The following Monday, a team from the FAA, including a senior investigator and an A&P, were meeting with club officials in their hangar at Allegheny County Airport (AGC), about 10 miles southeast of downtown Pittsburgh.

“We do not know who, how, or what was said to the local FSDO,” Club Member Nick Gianaris said. “There was an anonymous complaint about maintenance of the aircraft.”

Instead of allowing this unexpected visit to become a problem, the club worked with the FAA to address its concerns. Perhaps more importantly, ABC used the opportunity to educate club members on their maintenance responsibilities as owners and operators, to improve procedures for reporting squawks, and encourage members to be more active in helping turn wrenches. They also made sure everything was being communicated to the members.

The ABCs about the ABC Flying Club 

The ABC Flying Club has 30 members and operates three aircraft—a 1978 Grumman Tiger, a 1979 Cessna 177 Cardinal, and a 1978 Cessna 182P Skylane.Both Cessnas have extended range tanks that provide 70 gallons of fuel.

All of the aircraft are IFR-equipped and have similar avionics. The club has upgraded to Garmin G5s and all three aircraft have had a Garmin 430 WAAS GPS for 12 or 13 years. The club has had Garmin refurbish the 430s while they are still willing to do so, Nick said. The interiors have also been renovated.

A few years ago, the club president thought it would be a good idea to ask members who were no longer flying regularly to sell their shares to help get the planes flying more. A number of members who were getting older and no longer flying agreed, and about a third of the club turned over, in a short period of time.

The club requires prospective members to have at least 50 hours of flying after they have earned their private pilot’s certificate. The club’s officers vet the prospective members “to understand who they are, what they’ve done, what aircraft they’ve flown and what experience they have,” Nick said.

All members have access to any of the three aircraft once they have completed a five-hour checkout with a club approved instructor in each plane. The club starts everyone in the Tiger, then the Cardinal, and ultimately the Skylane.

It is possible that the decision to recruit new members who fly more may have contributed to getting the call from the FAA. Newer members may look at airplanes more closely since they aren’t as familiar with the aircraft, and if they are flying regularly, they will be looking at the planes more often. With a few maintenance issues arising, it is understandable that newer members may have more questions than longer term members.

Maintenance Issues

When the FAA came to inspect the aircraft, “they didn’t come out with a list, but they did have knowledge of certain items on each of the aircraft that we knew were squawked and discussed, and had recently been addressed,” Nick said.

The FAA reviewed the aircraft logs, interviewed some club officers, and inspected the planes. They looked into squawks on all three aircraft, but none of the issues were serious enough to ground the planes. However, the FAA did require some repairs be made to the Cardinal, Skylane and the Tiger.

The Tiger had an issue with carbon monoxide levels, which had been previously brought to the board and had been resolved before the FAA inspection. The club had discussed the matter and did some research, including one of the members speaking with a friend who is a Grumman expert. He had a similar problem that was corrected by applying a specific sealant to the exhaust header joints. 

“The failure was at the header and a faulty weld during manufacturing,” Nick said about the club’s Tiger. “After replacing all of the exhaust headers, the latent carbon monoxide problem was not fully resolved.  The solution was a sealant for the exhaust header pipe joints that are designed to slide in the joint.” The club also installed carbon monoxide detectors in all three airplanes.

While that repair had already been made, there was another issue that the FAA felt needed to be addressed—that of a worn bearing on the Tiger’s compass. Again, the club made the repair.

The Skylane had a slight imperfection in a flap. The club’s A&P stated that it was not an airworthiness issue, and when the club contacted Cessna, the manufacturer agreed. “And yet we were told to replace it anyway by the FSDO,” Nick said.

There also was some corrosion on the edge of the exhaust on the Cardinal. “Our mechanic determined it was not a flight worthiness issue,” Nick said. “It was documented, and we were keeping an eye on it. It’s always our A&P mechanic that determines flight worthiness. The FSDO said that it needed to be replaced, so we did.”

In addition to making repairs to the aircraft, the FAA required all club members to attend an in-person WINGS seminar on Owner-Pilot Maintenance, which they did as a group. Nick said the seminar was helpful in going through some of the FARs to help members understand their roles and responsibilities as the pilot, owner, and operator of the aircraft to make sure it is airworthy.

Change for the Better

“We’ve gone through a lot of lessons to be more proactive as owners, operators and pilots beyond what we normally do for preflight,” Nick said. “We have a better understanding of how we determine airworthiness, and that the onus is not just on our VP of Maintenance, but on all of us.”

Throughout the process, several representatives from the club, including Nick, a retired ATP pilot, and a third club member, had monthly meetings with the FSDO.  One of the ideas the FSDO suggested was that the club adopt a Safety Management System (SMS). After some discussion, it was agreed that a full-blown SMS is overkill for a non-profit flying club.

(Editor’s Note:  We agree that an SMS is over the top for a typical flying club, but we do strongly encourage all clubs to follow a formal safety program, that should include the FAA WINGS pilot proficiency program, which is ready to use and hard to beat.  See more about WINGS for Clubs, here).

In discussions with the club, the FAA pointed to the FARs and reviewed club procedures. One of the changes the club made was to develop a process for reporting and checking on the status of squawks that all members could easily access using the club’s online management tool,

“There is a squawk system there, and we said each pilot/owner/operator is responsible for ensuring the planes are flight worthy per input from the mechanic, and if there are any squawks that have not been addressed yet, then don’t fly the plane until the squawk has been addressed,” Nick said.

“The FSDO seemed happy with that. They were satisfied with what we do,” Nick said. “An SMS is not a level we need to be at. Using our procedures and the tools we have in place is sufficient.”

Another lesson learned was as issues come up, the club does a good job with maintenance, but better communication is needed, especially with newer members. As ABC moved forward with the repairs directed by the FAA, the club kept members informed through emails and discussions at monthly meetings.

What could have been a negative experience for the club, has helped members deepen their knowledge of aircraft ownership and responsibilities, as well as improve club operations, maintenance, safety and member engagement. In the past, some members seemed to think the Vice President of Maintenance alone was responsible for making sure the aircraft were safe, and therefore they treated the aircraft more like a rental, rather than a flying club.

Now, when the officers ask members to help with an oil change or when they needed to remove the interior for the spar inspection on the Cardinal, people get together and do it. Not only does it help save the club money, but members are gaining a better understanding of the aircraft systems and components, which helps make them safer and more educated pilots.

“I think the culture of the club has changed for the better. We have people who are concerned about maintenance and are getting more involved with it as a result,” Nick said. “Members feel better with the focus on maintenance and the recent actions by the board. There is a general sense of improvement and that we are on the right path.”



ABC Flying Club


Allegheny County Airport (KAGC)

West Mifflin, PA




Club President Ron DeBerandinis (412) 915-0150

Year formed



1978 Grumman Tiger AA-4B ($150/hr)

1979 Cessna 177B Cardinal ($150/hr.)

1978 Cessna 182P Skylane ($150/hr)

Rates are Tach time, wet

Joining fee

Approximately $6,500 to $7,500 per share (negotiated between buyer and seller)


$300 per month


30 (capped at 30)


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